NPL Women’s NNSW Round One Preview: Youth-filled Azzurri take on the Magpies while Magic take on the Golden Eagles

Match of the Round 
Charlestown Azzurri FC v Maitland FC 
Lisle Carr Oval, Saturday 4pm

The NPL Women’s NNSW season will start with a bang when Charlestown Azzurri goes head-to-head with Maitland FC on Saturday afternoon. 

It’s always been a battle between these two sides, finishing in the top four but failing to make it into the grand final. 

Azzurri will be looking to start the season with three points after a change-up in head coach and personnel during the off-season. 

Reserve grade 2023 championship-winning coach Heath Whyte is eager to get the season started. 

“For me, nothing has really changed as I have been involved with the club forever,” Whyte said.

“We are going to try and change up our style because if nothing changes, then nothing changes.

“I have approached pre-season a little differently, working with a strength and conditioning team to help bring science into our style of play.

“We have a nice mix of senior players and a lot of youthful enthusiasm.

“The girls have accepted my logic and there is a good feeling amongst the girls. You know if the culture is there or not.” 

Azzurri has lost the likes of Newcastle Jets attacking threat Lara Gooch as well as Ella Joyce and Katarina Papaspiropoulos. 

But they have brought in experience through the likes of Kirstyn Pearce from Broadmeadow Magic, while Jayna Fraser and Jess Gentle have returned to the side after mid-season departures during the 2022 and 2023 season. Alyssa Togo also returns to the side after missing out on most of the season through injury. 

The Blues have also sourced more players from down south picking up attacker Chloe Cattley and attacker Seinna Fraser-Kelly.

Whyte is hopeful that his new-look side will be able to focus on their game plan and come away with a result against a strong Maitland outfit. 

“It would be great to get a result this weekend,” Whyte said. 

“I am confident in our pre-season and know that the girls have been playing good football.

“I really want to focus on our style of play and if we can execute that we will be successful.

“I think Maitland is a good side. Every coach is going to look at the teams on paper. Maitland are real contenders this year.

“It will be a tough round match-up for us and I am looking forward to the game this weekend.”

Charlestown will be without experienced defender Lori Depczynski after receiving a suspension at the end of the 2023 season. They will also be without Sarah Halvorsen and will potentially miss Fraser-Kelly this weekend. 

Maitland has also seen a shakeup of players losing eight players from their 2023 squad. But coach Keelan Hamilton and his coaching team have sourced some quality replacements bringing in past Newcastle Jets midfielder Paige Kingston-Hogg, Newcastle Olympic attacker Georgia Amess and defender Alesha Clifford as well as Yasmin Popovic from the Macarthur Bulls Academy and Charlie O’Connor from Adamstown. 

Hamilton has been impressed with his new signings so far and is pleased with the experience players such as Kingston-Hogg have brought into the squad. 

“It’s been great for us, most importantly that she (Kingston-Hogg) is a top person and is great to have around the squad,” Hamilton said. 

“She (Kingston-Hogg) has experience from a high level but we are working with her to keep performing and growing her football.” 

“She (Kingston-Hogg) has a lot to add and we are really pleased to have her in our group.

“We feel like we are in a good space. We’ve had a bit of a refresh with the squad and we feel like we are reasonably prepared and want to get the season started.

The Magpies are coming into round one on a high after defeating Broadmeadow Magic in last week’s HMRI Charity Shield and Hamilton is feeling confident in his new-look side ahead of this weekend’s game. 

“I think it’s a bit of a cliche, but they say winning is a habit, so it’s nice to get the first one away,” Hamilton said. 

“It has been nice to have a shorter pre-season and get into the competitive matches early. 

“Charlestown have recruited quite well and they are always tough regardless so we know we have to be ready. 

“We don’t go into any game to be okay with losing. We want to be successful.”

The Magpies captain Sophie Stapleford is still in doubt for this weekend due to illness, while midfielder Sophie Jones remains on the sidelines with an MCL injury.  

Broadmeadow Magic FC v New Lambton FC  
Magic Park, Saturday 4pm 

Premier-Champion winning side Broadmeadow Magic will be looking to start their season where they left off in 2023 when they take on New Lambton on Saturday afternoon. 

Broadmeadow lost some significant players from their competition-winning squad including electric attacker Lucy Jerram, experienced goalkeeper Alison Lougue and key players Kirstyn Pearce, Gemma Harrison and Jennifer Reeves. 

But the Magic side has heavily recruited in the off-season, picking up Maitland Magpies trio Madi Gallegos, Mercedes McNabb and Imogene Tomasone as well as Tahlor Thackray from East Gosford FC and Lilly-Jane Babic from Charlestown Azzurri.

Magic may be coming off a pre-season loss in the HMRI Charity Shield but new head coach Nima Nikfarjam believes in his side but is aware that it may take a bit of time for his squad to adjust to the new recruits and different playing style.

“So far everything is to a great standard from the team,’ Nikfarjam said. 

“The girls are applying themselves well and are following instructions and knowing that we are looking to play a different style of football than what some of them are used to.

“We have had a big change of personnel and are a very different-looking squad.

“Magic has been an attacking team for the last few years. The way we have been playing was based on the quick players and it worked well for them. But some of those players have left meaning that we need to change things up.

“My football philosophy is that I like to play more with the ball and I like players to be able to dribble the ball.

“I am pretty confident with the players that we have recruited and the younger ones coming through.”

Broadmeadow’s gaffer is eager to get the season underway this weekend. 

“Everything is coming along well,” Nikfarjam said.

“I am looking forward to the season and am happy with how we are looking.” 

New Lambton will be looking to finally crack into finals football in 2024 after finishing last season sitting fifth on the table.  

New head coach Aaron Stedman is looking forward to turning things around this year. 

“I’m excited, it’s been good so far being involved with the players,” Stedman said. 

“We want to play semis this year and to give 100% every single game.

“I’m looking forward to starting the season.” 

The new gaffer won’t be relying on Newcastle Jets duo Cass Davis and Lauren Allan coming in to change games for his side, knowing the importance of starting the season as strongly as possible. 

“It will be great when they (Davis and Allan) come in but you can't wait and see and cruise through and wait until they come in to then get results,” Stedman said. 

“You have to start playing football from day one and be 100% competitive throughout the whole season.”

But the Golden Eagles will have an extra boost to start the season with Newcastle Jets veteran Tara Andrews available from round one this year after retiring from professional football last season. 

Stedman said that Andrews could be the key to helping the Golden Eagles get off to a flying start, scoring 20 goals last season.

“I think it’s a really good thing because the girls get to be around Tara with her experience and that is something that we will really be calling on to help with the younger players in our squad,” Stedman said. 

“I know she (Andrews) can score a goal or two from the start of the season. She helps to balance out the players around her.” 

Defender Amy Gosling will miss this weekend’s clash with a quad strain with Finley Woodforth expected to step into her place. 

Stedman says his side is excited and ready for round one this weekend. 

“We’ve spoken about what we want to do is not worry about who we play but to be 100% committed and competitive in every match,” Stedman said. 

“We know it’s going to be a hard game against Magic.

“We need to apply ourselves.

“Everyone is looking forward to starting the season and we will see where the season takes us.  

Adamstown Rosebud JFC v Newcastle Olympic FC 
Lake Macquarie Regional Football Facility, Saturday 7pm 

Two fresh-looking sides will be eager to start the season with three points when Adamstown Rosebud JFC takes on Newcastle Olympic on Saturday night. 

Rosebuds and Olympic have seen considerable change within the squads, with new head coaches and new personnel coming into the mix. 

Adamstown has lost experienced youngsters Leia Puxty and Josie Morely but has brought in the likes of Courtney Anderson from Mid Coast FC as well as Sophie Cook and Danielle McSeveney to help boost the young side. 

Tori Johnston will have to face her old side first up moving over from Newcastle Olympic to Adamstown in the off-season. 

Martin Slade has taken over the reins as head coach for the Rosebuds in 2024 after Ryan Campbell left the club and is now the interim head coach of the Newcastle Jets Women’s side. 

Olympic also has a new but experienced gaffer with Craig Atkins stepping up from assistant to head coach, after success as the championship-winning coach for Warners Bay FC in the 2022 season. 

Olympic suffered some major blows to their squad at the end of the season after captain Laura Hall announced she was taking a year off football in 2024 and experienced defender Alesha Clifford and attacker Georgia Amess moved to Maitland FC. 

But Atkin has brought in fresh new and experienced players, listing Newcastle Jets defender Alex Huynh in their squad as well as Jets Academy defender Alice Webster from the Newcastle Jets Academy and Evie Horgan from Charlestown Azzurri.

Former Newcastle Jet goalkeeper Claire Coelho will miss out on the first few rounds of the season after suffering a hand injury during pre-season.  

Warners Bay FC v Mid Coast FC  
John Street Oval, Sunday 4pm 

Two teams will look for redemption when Warners Bay hosts Mid Coast at John Street Oval on Sunday afternoon.

The Panthers are coming off the back of a horrid season, finishing last on the table and not winning a single game. But they are hoping to turn things around this season with experienced players coming into the squad. 

Ryan Swinkles remains in charge of the Panthers for 2024 but will have a new look side with key signings ready to make an impact this season.

Warners Bay has recruited from livewire attacker Emily Diaz, midfielders Indianna Asimus and Jennifer Reeves as well as Charlestown Azzurri’s grand final winning reserve grade goalkeeper Mia Wallace.

Mid Coast also found themselves on the bottom end of the table, with a change of coach mid-season and struggled for numbers at times in 2023. But this year, they will be hoping to start the season with a bang, adding some fresh faces to the squad and a new coach. 

Brett Walker has stepped into the role of head coach and will be eager for his side to have a successful year. 

Mid Coast will also hope to have strength in numbers after not entering a reserve grade team for the 2024 season.